The rapid ascent of mobile apps as the dominant consumer touch point is influencing popular culture as much as it is affecting brand loyalty and customer behavior today. Examples of this trend can be found everywhere, such as in the popular animated TV sitcom “Family Guy,” which explored the phenomenon in an episode entitled “An App a Day.”

During the show, lead character Peter Griffin is exposed to mobile apps via Shazam, which was used to settle a bar-room dispute over the name of a song. Peter is now enamored by the power of mobile technology and is soon shown resting in bed with his wife Lois — both of whom are using apps on their smartphones — Lois is looking at lamps she’ll never buy, while Peter repeatedly flicks his finger upward, yelling “Awesome!” “Sweet!”

When she asks Peter what he’s doing, he tells Lois that he’s discovered apps and it’s all he’s doing now — including playing with his cool new bowling app. “Strike!” he exclaims…

“Peter, your phone’s streaming to the TV,” Lois excitedly replies. “You’re clearly watching porn!”

Peter’s new “Grinder” app, teen sexting and the need for legal reform, app use overload and a range of other relevant issues find their way into the episode, further cementing apps into American pop culture.

The popularity and prevalence of apps can be a double-edged sword for modern brands, however; with one problem being that cross-platform and usability testing is typically performed by the app’s creators (which are also the folks most familiar with its design, functioning and layout), rather than by a targeted group of “real world” users. Another problem is app behaviors that the user doesn’t expect, which can lead to frustrations that can cost a company its best customers.

A recent personal experience highlights the customer satisfaction challenges of life in the digital age:

The Internet changed the travel industry forever, with people visiting discount travel sites such as Kayak, Orbitz, and a countless cadre of competitors, all in an effort to obtain the lowest prices — regardless of a provider’s brand. This lack of customer loyalty isn’t good for recurring sales, and when combined with the downward pressure on price points these sites drive, hampers profits and complicates operations. For consumers, wading through the myriad of options can be tedious and time consuming, with the best choice for a given customer often buried amongst the rubble of less desirable travel itineraries.

At the other end of the purchasing spectrum, vendor apps offer a smoother, more tailored experience, where a single company can reach customers without having to face competition from other providers.

In my example, the handy United app has become my sole source of booking flights. I am as satisfied as I can be with the company’s itineraries and service, and comfortable enough on their flights. The iPhone app makes it so convenient for me that I don’t really bother price shopping on discount sites anymore — and as long as things go along smoothly, there is little chance that I’d investigate competitive offers.

I use a United card. I rack up miles. I’m up-sell friendly (and easy). I’m the perfect customer, and good for more than a few thousand dollars in sales every year.

Then the company’s app pissed me off. For whatever reason, it decided to log me out, and when trying to log back in to my mileage program (what was that user/pass info?), it locked me out of the system “for security purposes.” To clear this dilemma, I had to go off-app and visit the full web version of United.com to answer a series of company-selected security questions using pre-selected answers — none of which were relevant enough to my life to prevent these security questions and answers from having to be written down somewhere in case I needed them later…

It was a major inconvenience and almost enough to send me back to the discount search sites instead, with this app nearly costing the company a customer that prizes comfort and convenience over price — a customer many firms would love to have — underscoring the need for predictable app performance.

I’ve also opined before about the lack of user specified question/answer pairs because I just don’t recall “my favorite homeroom teacher’s name,” or other vital life event (from a young coder’s perspective), nor do I wish to contribute to my demographic profiling through the probative questions that some companies are seeking answers to.

These may be minor details, but when taken as a whole, the cumulative effect of these small touches adds up to a big difference in the user experience and resulting customer satisfaction — and I’m not alone in my feelings on this matter.

“In today’s software-driven world, where consumers are more discerning about what they expect from applications, the reality is that businesses that fail to deliver a positive application experience risk losing as much as a quarter of their customer base,” states a 2015 CA Technologies report, entitled, “Software: the New Battleground for Brand Loyalty.”

The study surveyed 6,770 consumers and 809 businesses in 18 countries. Highlighted in the findings are the vital need for quick loading — with 68 percent of consumers that left a brand because of its media’s slow loading demanding load times of six seconds or less — while more than half expected load times of three seconds or less.

Then there’s the pesky issue of the app’s basic functionality, which cannot be taken for granted, with more than 70 percent of users expecting to “perform tasks with little difficulty.” Consider that stat and its co-meaning that three out of 10 customers expect to encounter some difficulty when using an app… Eight out of 10 say that “easy to use features” lead them to use or purchase an app; while security is also on consumers’ radar, with 10 percent leaving a brand because of safety issues.

According to CA Technologies’ VP of Strategic Solutions, Andi Mann, consumers no longer view apps as nice-to-have novelties, but as tools that have a huge impact on customer loyalty.

“As businesses navigate a new, always-connected reality that produces vast amounts of ambient data, they must react by delivering a personalized, secure and engaging application experience,” Mann says. “In order to tap into the growth potential of the application economy, businesses and governments must make software more than just a part of their business — it must become their business.”

“To do this, they have to let their customers lead,” Mann adds. “Listen to them, understand their needs, and apply the same rigor and predictive analysis to application development and deployment as they would to determine the best location for a retail store.”

Fortunately, tools such as Apptentive are available to help companies better listen to their customers and respond to their needs; fostering long-term relationships built on app-driven customer satisfaction, and turning customer service challenges into new opportunities for earning vendor loyalty.

Apptentive allows customer-focused brands to create a dialog with their users; moving beyond typical one-way reporting to loyalty-building, two-way conversations that significantly boost app store ratings and reviews among other metrics. The Apptentive website offers a series of whitepapers revealing how some clients have seen a 40 percent increase in in-app initiated purchases; a 330 percent rise in survey completions; a 15-fold increase in user rating volume; a mobile survey response rate of 17 percent; and a traffic funnel that drives 55 percent of viewers to the site’s promoted content, all while gathering user feedback that enables better app development.

These are compelling stats for mobile marketers seeking an edge, and show that placing more emphasis on two-way customer communications can make a difference in the effectiveness of an app and the perception that prospects have of a firm because of its online marketing methods. It is also a signal that businesses are now coming to terms with the two-fold power of apps to either build or bust their brand.

For consumers, apps are a convenient way to learn about, compare and purchase products and services. For brands seeking a loyal user base, mobile apps are proving to be among the best ways ever conceived to keep the connection going — but they can also end customer relationships just as easily. Either way, mobile apps have become immersed into our culture and into our daily lives — and for better or worse, there’s no turning back now.

 

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